Jane (that is my son, it is pronounced YAH-NEH) started to speak Macedonian (his mother tongue) at around two and by 3 1/2 he started to use English words. Gradually, he totally abandoned Macedonian and he used only English. All of his therapists and teachers insisted on him using Macedonian and now he speaks English at home and Macedonian in the school to sometimes awkward results. I know it is really hard on him to use Macedonian, so my question here would be if I should also insist on Macedonian, having in mind that it is an official language here and that using English only would render him maladjusted? Unfortunately, current state is also unsustainable as it is very confusing for him to be bilingual?
[To get further information I asked a little more ("Before I go into detail in a blog
post answering you Maja, would you mind if I ask some clarifying
questions? Are you or your partner (or both) a native English speaker?
If so, does the English speaker have very fluent Macedonian? .... Will you tell me more about Jane, what
he most enjoys doing, what you think he would read about if he could
read well, for example, and what he chooses to do when given free choice
of all things to do? What is your personal assessment of him in
expressive and receptive language? Which is easier for him, do you
think, for example?") and here was the answer:]
I would say that my English is
fairly good, but my husband's is not so. Jane is learning his English
from TV and movies, mostly. Most of the people we are socializing with I
speak English to certain degree, so it is not difficult for him to acquire new words. I have to admit that at the beginning when he
started to use English I encouraged him, I thought that it is good for
him. Later, as his therapists insisted on him speaking Macedonian, I
tried to reduce English usage, but to no avail. I believe that his
motivation comes from the fact that people appreciate the fact that he
speaks English and it makes him feel competent....I almost forgot the most
interesting thing: He likes to call himself DJ, short from DJ Music. He
claims that he is English, not Macedonian.
At first my problem answering this was that I was getting stuck on the notion of whether bilingualism would be confusing if you were Autistic, even though studies have shown that it is actually helpful in increasing executive functioning in children overall, and the beneficial effects persist into adulthood (here is just one good example of such a study, with a useful bibliography pointing toward more). I wondered if our brains were so different that perhaps the studies didn't count for us. This is still an interesting question and one I might pursue at some point soon, if funders are interested.
But then I thought about it some more. What is really going on here isn't really centrally a question of the thing I was hearing to to be, at first. What is probably a more important thing to think about is that DJ here is interested enough in the English language to express himself in it quite freely. You, his mother, have noticed that it makes him feel competent, and people appreciate him for it. He is interested in aspects of English-speaking culture to the extent that he gave himself a nickname.
Patrick Schwarz and Paula Kluth wrote a wonderful book called Just Give Him the Whale which I believe gets at the core of what we are really talking about here, and may help you communicate with DJ's teachers and therapists why it can be an excellent idea to meet him in the English language. The basic idea is that he has found a thing in which he is passionately interested, so interested that he wants to include other people, to tell other people what he is thinking, to use his imagination and share with them. This is a wonderful thing, and can be helpful for him in further aspects of his life. For example, in English, he may become interested in other aspects of schoolwork. In English, he may finally become interested in Macedonian. This is different from taking away his special interests and not allowing him to do the things that make him feel confident and passionate: it is the opposite. The idea is that you as his mother can help his service providers understand how important that feeling of confidence and engagement and being interested is for a person who is trying to learn things, and use the fact that he cares about what he cares about to find the keys perhaps to get him interested in other things.
In short, I do not believe his Macedonian is awkward because he can speak some English. I believe it may be becoming awkward because in the efforts being made to stop him from doing what he finds truly interesting, his feeling of competence is sliding away from him. When your feeling of competence slides away, your actual competence is soon to follow. (I believe this is true for every human being in the world, but it is so true for me that I can become absolutely stymied, petrified and broken down from the effects of it. This is how I am also partly guessing the importance of not taking English away from DJ.) Ask them to try it where he is the expert in his class at translating between English and Macedonian, particularly with respect to the plots and dialogues of key movies and song lyrics that are important to him. See if his Macedonian doesn't pick up: I am almost certain that in circumstances of himself being positioned as expert, it will do just that. Please get this book of Schwarz and Kluth I mentioned which explains more of what I am saying, and let me know what happens with this idea.
Another detail here I wanted to add. You might have noticed that I am saying your son Jane is called DJ because he is calling himself that. The reason I am doing this is a habit I have with people having to do with following their own specifications of what I should call them. Sometimes it is not very important, just a type of politeness on my part, or a quirk, but other times it can be very important. When a person who may not believe that speaking is a useful way of getting things to change or happen in the world finds out that he or she can exert small amounts of will into the world by speaking, this will make speaking seem more worthwhile. Some people go through life believing nothing they say matters and nobody will care, so it has long been a secret personal mission of mine to announce through action that I am listening in small ways. Here it will not do anything because I don't think DJ will read these words, but I am just telling you the habit I have of why I am calling him this, because you told me he likes to call himself this name so I am following his preference, and it does not matter to me that he is only a child, because children have even less power in life.
If you have any further ideas or questions or parts of it I did not address sufficiently, please also write back. I am sorry it took me so long to answer because of the fact that I was trying to answer what I am now convinced was the wrong question!
All the best,